Hosea 13:1-16

13 When Ephraim spoke, people trembled;
    he was exalted in Israel.
    But he became guilty of Baal worship and died.
Now they sin more and more;
    they make idols for themselves from their silver,
cleverly fashioned images,
    all of them the work of craftsmen.
It is said of these people,
    “They offer human sacrifices!
    They kiss calf-idols!”
Therefore they will be like the morning mist,
    like the early dew that disappears,
    like chaff swirling from a threshing floor,
    like smoke escaping through a window.

“But I have been the Lord your God
    ever since you came out of Egypt.
You shall acknowledge no God but me,
    no Savior except me.
I cared for you in the wilderness,
    in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
    when they were satisfied, they became proud;
    then they forgot me.
So I will be like a lion to them,
    like a leopard I will lurk by the path.
Like a bear robbed of her cubs,
    I will attack them and rip them open;
like a lion I will devour them—
    a wild animal will tear them apart.

“You are destroyed, Israel,
    because you are against me, against your helper.
10 Where is your king, that he may save you?
    Where are your rulers in all your towns,
of whom you said,
    ‘Give me a king and princes’?
11 So in my anger I gave you a king,
    and in my wrath I took him away.
12 The guilt of Ephraim is stored up,
    his sins are kept on record.
13 Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him,
    but he is a child without wisdom;
when the time arrives,
    he doesn’t have the sense to come out of the womb.

14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
    I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
    Where, O grave, is your destruction?

“I will have no compassion,
15     even though he thrives among his brothers.
An east wind from the Lord will come,
    blowing in from the desert;
his spring will fail
    and his well dry up.
His storehouse will be plundered
    of all its treasures.
16 The people of Samaria must bear their guilt,
    because they have rebelled against their God.
They will fall by the sword;
    their little ones will be dashed to the ground,
    their pregnant women ripped open.”
(Hosea 13:1-16 NIV)

In yesterday’s passage, we saw the Lord issue one last call for repentance (Hosea 12:6).  But Israel refused to acknowledge its sin and its need for the Lord.  The northern kingdom marched forward in its deluded self-sufficiency and pride.

In today’s text, the time of judgment has come.  The Lord has warned Israel of the consequences of their sin and has pleaded with them to repent and turn back to Him.  Since Israel has ignored their Heavenly Father, He must now discipline His wayward child to ultimately save the child from self-destruction.

Israel had become proud (v. 1a), and then began Baal worship (v. 1b).  Instead of humbling themselves and turning to the Lord, they increased their worship of other gods.  They also began creating images of these gods, offering human sacrifices to idols and kissing their created images (v. 2).  In the end, these people who participated in the creation and worship of these idols would be swept away just like the morning dew that vanishes when the sun comes up (v. 3).

The Lord reminds Israel that He cared for them across the generations – from leading them out of Egypt to caring for their every need while they were in the desert to giving them the Promised Land (vv. 4-5).  But in the end, they enjoyed what they had been given and forgot the Lord who gave them all the blessings and went their own way (v. 6).

So the Lord will discipline His children.  To get their attention, it will feel like they are being attacked by wild animals.  The Lord will rip apart their way of life, their worship of false idols, and their self-sufficiency (vv. 7-8).

The Lord reminds them that they have no one to blame but themselves.  They have committed spiritual and national suicide because of their sin and unrepentance (v. 9).  The Lord also reminds them that they have no king.  Even if they did have a king, it would not matter, as the nation’s heart was turned against the Lord (vv. 10-11).

The time for discipline is upon Israel, just as the time of labor comes to a pregnant woman (vv. 12-13).  But Israel tries to resist; Solomon’s words from so long ago were right:

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.
(Proverbs 22:15 NIV)

Despite these horrific predictions, the Lord promises to redeem and restore His people after the discipline ends (v. 14).  But for now, the atrocities of the Assyrians awaits the Israelites because of their sins and their unwillingness to return to the Lord (vv. 15-16).

Today’s text is a grim picture of the consequences of sin, and the holiness of God.  Yet in His holiness, God cares enough to do whatever it takes to bring His children back to Himself.  His character and nature is love – and that means not giving up on His children, even when they are willfully and stubbornly disobedient and set on a self-destructive path.  Sometimes extreme sin requires extreme love.

I believe another big lesson from today’s text is God’s ultimate sovereignty in world affairs.  Many people believe that international events have no ties whatsoever to God; that humanity makes its own history.  Some, on the other extreme, try to bind every international news article to some apocalyptic reference in the Old or New Testament.

But it seems that the Lord’s words through Hosea recorded neither of those extreme views.  Yes, God is ultimately sovereign in world affairs, but He allows people free will to make their own choices.  God instructs anyone who will listen as to what those good choices look like, but will not stop them from choosing what they want, even if it is to their ultimate harm.  There are consequences, both good and bad, for our choices.

Finally, the biggest lesson from today’s text is that the meaning of life cannot be realized apart from God, the giver of life.  No wealth, no power, no army, no nation, no leader can offer security or protection on their own, or even by combining forces.  Without the Lord, the end is the same, and it’s not a pretty picture.

May we look to the Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer, the One worthy of our praise and for our deliverance, in both this world and eternity to come.